Vicky Krieps took her teenage idea and made corsets possible

Vicky Krieps took her teenage idea and made corsets possible

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Eventually, Vicky Krieps will have her moment. The ‘Phantom Thread’ star has already won a Cannes jury award and the European Award for Best Actress for the acclaimed period drama ‘Corsage’. Is an Oscar nomination in your future? As Krieps told us last month: “I find these awards very strange because they invoke a sense of competition when it’s not about competition. It’s about camaraderie and doing it together. Because we can only educate each other.”

READ MORE: ‘Banshees’ and ‘All Quiet’ Dominate as BAFTA Longlists Tease Oscars

Written and directed by Marie Kreutzer, “Corsage” revolves around the life of Empress Elisabeth of Austria as she nears her 40th birthday. Krieps had been fascinated by Elisabeth’s life since she was a teenager, and she suggested it as a film to Kreutzer, who directed her in 2016’s We Used to Be Cool. Years later, the film was a reality and she found herself in Austria to delve deep into the life of the controversial character.

“I went to Vienna, I think on January 1st. I stayed there for two months and just read everything I found,” Krieps recalls. “Go to all the museums, learn side saddle, fencing. I had to change my eating habits to even wear the coset to learn Hungarian. I worked with a body coach because I wanted to give her a special kind of body language, like she was floating.”

As part of our interview, Krieps talks about Elisabeth’s reputation today, how she and Kreutzer envisioned a different life for the character in the film’s third act, her recent experiences shooting Viggo Mortensen’s western in the Mexican desert, and more.


The Playlist: This year you won the Un Certain Regard Best Performance Prize at Cannes and Best Actress at the European Film Awards for “Corsage”. What do these honors mean to you in the context of your career?

Vicky Krieps: I never know the answer to that. I find these awards very strange because they create a sense of competition when it’s not about competition. It’s about camaraderie and doing it together. Because we can only educate each other. I can only be as good as my partner. But if I want to see it positively, I see it as a friendly postcard. If you were to receive a postcard either from home or in this case you would receive a postcard from a certain company, these are European film people. They will send you a postcard saying “we are with you”. That’s how I see it.

This is the best way. What fascinated you about this particular project?

I took this project to Marie. The idea. Yes. I went to Marie and said to her, “We should make a film about her.” That was the first step. I always knew I would be interested.

How long have you been interested in the story of Empress Elisabeth? Do you remember what you read or saw that led to this?

In my house we were a big hippie household with only loud music coming out of the living room. We didn’t have any of those conservative princess movies. But my neighbors were very Catholic and watched it every Sunday, Christmas and so on. That’s where I discovered it when I was a girl. Then of course I thought, “Oh, the beautiful princess and the beautiful dress.” But when I was 15, I read a biography they had in the house. And then I got curious and thought something was missing or something was wrong. It feels like there’s something behind the curtain that I can’t explain, but it feels dark and sad and the opposite of what I see in a movie.
So many years later I’m making a film with Marie Kreutzer in Vienna. We have a movie called “We used to be cool.” And then I say to her: “We should work together again”, which she also said. And then I suggested making a film about Sisi. And Marie, I remember, looked at me like I was from the moon because she thought it was a very bad idea. She said, “What? This child. Barbie Princess, that’s not interesting.” And I said to her, “Well, I remember reading the biography when I was 15 and I felt like there was some kind of mystery and darkness.” And then she, I think it took me another two years to read it and write a screenplay without telling me, to finally get the screenplay in my mailbox.

Did you want to help with the making of the film besides just giving Marie the idea?

Yes. Because I had the idea and they didn’t have all the money. They said they couldn’t pay me for everything, so it was an exchange of respect, saying, ‘Well, we can’t, so we give you the executive producer title. Also because it’s your idea.” Also because part of acting, I mean, you see it. I have a lot too. If you have seen other films of mine. A lot in a film was my work, my creation, and Marie just let me be as creative as I wanted.

Can you give me an example of this? In what way?

Any way. [Laughs] No, just all these things I do like pointing fingers or jumping out the window after the fight, or lots of little things like ideas for the costume or how the scene would play out. I would change the lines. I would just do things. Like there’s this black and white moment where I run away and I jump in the air and stuff like that. So all those things were just things that I mentioned. I said, “Oh, let’s do this now. Oh let her do that.”

Aside from the autobiography you read as a teenager, did you feel like you needed to do some research, or is it like you grew up with it?

No no no. We both spend a lot of time researching. you more than me. And I went to Vienna, I think on January 1st. I stayed there for two months and just read everything I could find. Go to all museums, learn side saddle, fencing. I had to change my eating habits to even wear the coset to learn Hungarian. I worked with a body coach because I wanted to give her a special kind of body language, like she was floating. So I did a lot of research, yes.

In the US, we know very little about Empress Elisabeth. It’s not really part of the story we’re taught growing up. How does she see them in general from Austrians or Europeans compared to their portrayal in the film?

In Austria it has a very strange reputation. She’s the national heroine in a way, though only used in the white dress and she was so beautiful. So it’s actually only used for that, and then half of the population simply hates this kitsch image. But if you go to Austria, she’s everywhere. It’s on every mug, in every gift shop, everywhere you can imagine.

Over the years, what do you think has helped her to achieve this enduring reputation?

I do not know. I guess we want those kinds of characters. I think it used to be more like church and saints. And that’s how she survived all this stuff because it’s just this big symbol of pure beauty and something beautiful to look at. You know what I mean? That’s what I wanted to do in the film because she was the opposite. What’s in “Corsage” comes so much closer to the truth. So she was indeed abused, almost abused. ‘Cause that’s not her and she’s on every tote bag and all over that white dress and she hated it.

Corset, Cannes

They say the film is the truth, but the last part of the film is kind of imaginary.

Oh yeah. A lot is imaginary. Much of what we imagine arises from what we don’t know. Pointing the finger and stuff like that. Of course, we have no idea what these people were really doing. So we took the liberty of making it our own. To the right? And the truth is that at the end of her life she was never really seen. Only behind a veil and no one knew where she was. She was on her way. So, Marie, who loves crime stories, said, “Wait a minute.” Nobody saw her. What? And that’s how we invented it. But of course that is not the truth. But the truth is so crazy because she was the first critic of the monarchy. Her son in the film says, “The monarchy is dying,” which is a phrase we took from her diaries. So she was the one who said that. And as one of the first to criticize the monarchy, she was killed by an anarchist with a nail fight to the heart. I don’t know what that is, but it’s crazy. It’s from a movie again.

You mentioned all the training you had to do. Have you ever had to wear corsets or something similar?

no I remember wearing corsets but they’re like little roles and I don’t… And especially not this one because that’s when they were the craziest about it. Because they talked about the hourglass. So they wanted it to be super tight in the middle and then wide at the shoulders and at the hips. That was the time when women really suffered a lot and so we really wanted to follow that form, which meant I was actually in a lot of pain, which I wasn’t expecting.

The film was released in Austria and Germany in the summer. How was the reaction? Did the Austrians appreciate this interpretation of her?

It was funny because we expected people to be upset. That a lot more people loved the film and actually went to the cinema a lot. In Germany it takes a lot for people to go to the cinema, but they went. Every now and then voices would be heard saying, “Oh, but why are you showing them so mean? And she’s never been this mean.” Which is just the thing, of course, she was only human. We are all. And she was nice and lovely and mean and cranky and all at the same time. But no, we expected people to be much more critical. I think people took it as a relief too, you know? That this perfect figure is perhaps more human than a saint.

I find it quite funny that 150 years ago you would know if someone was mean or not.

I agree.

What else have you been working on? You just said you just finished something.

Yes, it’s called “The Dead Don’t Hurt”. It is a western film directed by Viggo Mortensen.

wow Did you shoot in the US?

In Mexico. In the desert of Mexico, Durango.

Can you tell us something about your character?

Yes, she is a very strong woman again; caught up in her time again; and again she has to find her way out.

Is she European or are you doing a North American character?

no she is She is actually French Canadian. Which was different back then. So it would have been a bit more European than it is today, French-Canadian.

Well I know you’re exhausted just shooting with it. But what was that experience like shooting a western? You’ve never done anything like this before.

Yes, it was very cool. Can you imagine walking on set and it’s like a whole western town and all these cowboys and their guns and the hats and everything is just like it used to be? But then to navigate through this world as a woman, because it’s really also about the woman in the story. But she’s absolutely in that cowboy world, but it’s not a classic western in that sense because a lot is about her and how she has to navigate this very rough and primitive world that is the basis of our world today.

“Corsage” is still playing nationwide.

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